December 3, 2020
Opinion Sport

BRIAN QUIGLEY: FAI blazers won’t agree to all-Ireland football league

Talk of an all-Ireland soccer league reared its head again this autumn, but the idea seems to be dead in the water after briefly being on the agenda.

Personally I’m disappointed. I’d love to see the leagues in the Republic and Northern Ireland join forces and build a stronger pyramid on the island than the two separate pyramids could ever flex their individual muscle to.

There remains too much in the way, too many stumbling blocks. Sectarian issues for one, which is understandable given the recent history of our two communities.

I think that could be overcome, given that we achieved a political Peace Process, but evidently there are too many reservations in the footballing community.

Money is another factor. The top clubs in both leagues regularly get through to Europe, where there is bigger cash on offer for getting through a round or two than for winning major domestic honours.

Combine the leagues and the chances of keeping your hands on a slice of this pie diminish.

Then there is the power and prestige administrators and blazers in the separate organisations (FAI and IFA) enjoy. They won’t want to give that up. Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas.

I’ve always been a fan of Northern Ireland domestic football, ever since I was a child and their results would come on the BBC straight after the English ones. Linfield, Glentoran, Portadown, Cliftonville and Crusaders.

They were teams I wanted to see. Their league was a standard I wanted to compare with the world of Waterford FC, Shelbourne, Bohemians, Bray Wanderers, Shamrock Rovers, Dundalk, Derry City and Cork City.

A phrase I’m fond of is ‘together we are stronger’. It would be a brave move to combine the leagues, but you achieve nothing unless you are brave.

If we did make the brave move we could construct a national pyramid with two strong national divisions (maybe of 12 or 14 teams) and a regionalised third-tier structure. If it was marketed and televised right it could attract sufficient crowds and sponsors to make it pay for itself.

As a fan of League of Ireland I have to say that one of the perennial disappointments is the small range of grounds you get to travel to.

Imagine if a whole new world opened up, where you could be travelling to clubs you have never been to before.
It would be the same for fans in Northern Ireland. Maybe one day it will happen!

– Brian Quigley

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